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The Science of Bleached Hair and How to Care For It

April 6, 2022

 by

Verna Meachum

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Last Updated on September 5, 2022 by Verna Meachum

If you’re thinking of bleaching your hair, you need to be aware of the potential side effects. Bleaching can dry out your hair, make it brittle, and cause it to break off.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss the the science of bleached hair and the impact bleach has on hair, how to take care of your hair after bleaching it, and how to reduce the risk of damaging it further.

The Bleached Hair Process

Blonde bleached hair

Blonde hair is a color that has been in style for centuries, and continues to be popular today. However, the bleaching process is not without its risks.

Hair bleaching is probably the most popular hair coloring process among consumers all over the world. It is often seen as a way to lighten hair color and achieve a brighter, more radiant look.

The word “bleaching” is defined as “the lightening of hair color” via oxidation processing.

The oxidizing agent most commonly used is alkaline hydrogen peroxide. The process involves applying an alkaline mixture of oxidizing agents to the hair fibers, then leaving it to work for 15-20 minutes.

Bleaching process for bleached hair.

The bleach is then removed from the hair with warm water, followed by a clarifying shampoo to rinse away the bleaching chemical.

The chemistry of hair bleaching involves a series of complex chemical reactions and after the bleaching procedure, the hair’s quality and structure will be different, and will require a different type of care.

In other words, your hair care regimen will need to change drastically once you bleach your hair.

Now, let’s go through the fundamentals of hair bleaching, then how to preserve and restore the hair’s texture during and after the bleaching process.

Melanin and Its Bleaching

Process of bleaching hair to blonde

Hair bleaching is a chemical process that alters the natural color of your hair. It strips your hair of its melanin, which is the pigment that gives your hair its color.

Bleaching permanently alters your hair color and it cannot be reversed. The bleaching process opens up the hair cuticle so that the bleach can reach the cortex, where the hair cuticle and medulla are located.

Melanin is micro granular species present in the cortex of the hair. It scatters the incoming solar radiation, and imparts color to the hair fibers.

It is formed by specialized cells called melanocytes under genetic control through a complex process of melanogenesis.

There are two types of melanin present in hair that differ from each other in the pathway of their biosyntheses, characteristics, and color.

  • Eumelanin – gives brown to black color
  • Pheomelanin – for yellow-blond, ginger, and red color.

The color of hair is determined by the type of melanin, the ratio of the mixture of both melanins, the size of the pigment granule, its site inside the cortex, and the quantity of melanin inside the fiber.

Alkaline Bleaching

Hydrogen peroxide for bleached hair

Alkaline hydrogen peroxide is the most widely used chemical when it comes to the bleaching of hair.

However, hydrogen peroxide is not stable in alkaline high pH conditions. That’s why it is mixed with an alkaline solution of ammonia just before the application.

Other alkalizing agents can also be used, however, ammonia is preferred because of its specific role in hair bleaching.

Mixing with ammonia raises the pH of hydrogen peroxide and activates it to start the chemical reaction.

Under microscopic analysis, it reveals that ammonia and hydrogen peroxide penetrate through the cuticle targeting the melanin grains in the cortex.

The alkaline hydrogen peroxide degrades the melanin grains and solubilizes them at high pH, breaking them down into smaller molecules that are more hydrophilic and are dissolved in water. These derivatives are then subsequently rinsed off.

The Aftermath of Bleached Hair

Bleaching hair can have a number of adverse effects, including:

  • Damage to the cuticle and cortex
  • Weakened hair shafts that leads to breakage
  • Dry, brittle, and damaged hair
  • Increased sensitivity to sun and damage
  • Hair that is very porous, weak, and easily damaged
  • Hair shaft is weakened and can break
  • More frizzy and dry hair
  • Significantly reduced hair strength and mechanical integrity
  • Color will fade over time and eventually needs to be dyed again

The oxidation process of hair bleaching is a harsh chemical process. The high pH hydrogen peroxide causes significant damage to the hair fibers, as well as, some other negative effects that may not be anticipated.

Protein structure – compromised

Besides bleaching melanin, hydrogen peroxide oxidizes various protein components of hair keratin.

The disulfide bond is the backbone of the hair’s mechanical strength. Hydrogen peroxide attacks this vital chemical linkage and can break it. This leaves hair significantly damaged, porous, and weak, which can even break.

Furthermore, cystine (sulfur-containing amino acid) of keratin is oxidized to cystic acid which makes hair more hydrophilic. That’s why bleached hair can absorb more moisture and get frizzier.

Damage

As described above, excessive hair bleaching with high volumes of hydrogen peroxide and ammonia leaves hair extremely damaged.

It can cause the hair shaft to become porous and weak, which makes it more susceptible to breakage.

Hair becomes dry, dull, and frizzy, making it more difficult to style. Hair also becomes weak and can even snap during regular brushing or grooming.

Split ends are also common and hair becomes unmanageable.

Thinning hair

Protein loss from hair fibers leaves hair thin. The repeated bleaching causes significant thinning or decrease in the diameter of the hair shaft.

This is a problematic situation because excessive thinning may even lead to hair loss.

Unpredictable color tone

At the end of the bleaching procedure, hairdressers and clients aim to achieve a certain shade of blonde. However, things don’t always go as planned.

The end hair color tone might differ from what was anticipated. This is potentially due to hair’s condition and a previous history of chemical treatments on hair.

The undesired results subsequently require color correction using toners or color modifiers.

So, in summary, bleaching has a profound impact on the quality of hair, its physiochemical features, and manageability. 

How to Take Care of Bleached Hair

If you are going to bleach your hair, it is vital to take care of it afterwards.

By using a combination of preservation and restoration methods, you can take care of your hair at home and keep it looking its best.

Preserve hair color

Hair bleach can have a major impact on hair, both good and bad. When it comes to restoring or preserving the integrity of blonde hair, it’s important to find a balance between moisture and protein.

There are two things to do; preserve and then restore.

Once your hair has been bleached, the natural color is gone for good. The only way to restore your hair to its original color is to re-dye it.

There are a number of ways to preserve your hair color, including:

✓ using a purple shampoo to counteract any yellow tones (but, wait at least two weeks before adding this)

✓ using a color preserving shampoo and conditioner

✓ using hair masks regularly

✓ using heat protectant products if, or when styling your hair

✓ avoiding excessive sun and heat exposure

If you are careful to avoid the harsh chemicals and protect your hair from the sun and heat, you can keep your hair color for a long time.

During the bleaching process, efforts are made to minimize the extent of damage, control excessive hair bleaching, and minimize the loss of hair mechanical strength.

This can be achieved by having relatively milder bleaching conditions and adding hair conditioning, or strengthening agents into the bleaching formulation.

Various hair care companies have introduced a “Hair Bonder” or “Bond sustainer”, such as Olaplex.

These formulations comprise multiple active ingredients that aim to preserve the biological, chemical, and mechanical integrity of hair fibers during chemical treatments.

They work simultaneously along with hydrogen peroxide to form chemical bonds inside the hair cortex.

Restore hair post bleach

The second approach is restoring the hair quality post-hair bleaching. This is done by using specially formulated hair care products that help to rebuild and reinforce the hair shaft.

The good news is that there are ways to counteract the negative effects of bleach.

It requires cleansing hair fibers using a mild sulfate-free shampoo, subsequently applying hair conditioning treatment, and using a leave-in product.

These formulations mainly contain

  • cationic conditioning agents
  • polymeric ingredients
  • proteins

They also usually contain high levels of proteins, amino acids, and other essential nutrients that can help to restore (and maintain) hair.

While these products cannot reverse all the damage that has been done, they can help to improve the condition of hair and make it more manageable.

Bleaching makes hair more porous and the pore size also increases. The conditioning actives are, therefore, able to penetrate deep into hair fibers filling the empty spaces/gaps and cementing different components.

This helps to restore the mechanical strength of hair, improves hair shine, and aligns the cuticles, leading to smooth shiny and healthy hairs.

Tips to Take Care of Bleached Hair

Tips for bleached hair

Patience

Bleached hair can be very difficult to take care of, but there are a few tips that can help.

First, it is important to have patience. Bleached hair is often dry and brittle, and it can take some time to restore it to its former glory.

Second, be sure to use a gentle shampoo and conditioner. Bleached hair is particularly susceptible to damage, so it is important to avoid products that are harsh or drying.

Third, use a deep conditioning treatment at least once a week. Bleached hair tends to be dry and frizzy, so a weekly deep conditioning treatment can help to keep it moisturized and looking healthy.

Protein treatment

You’ll want to take extra care of your bleached hair it to keep it looking healthy.

One important step is to add a protein treatment to your hair care routine.

Protein helps to rebuild and strengthen the hair shaft, which can be damaged by bleaching.

You can find protein treatments at most beauty supply stores. Here is a list of my favorite protein treatments.

Just follow the directions on the package and you’ll be on your way to healthier, stronger healthier hair.

Shower filter

Anyone who has bleached their hair knows that it’s a bit of a commitment.

Not only do you have to keep up with the roots, but you also have to take extra care of your hair to keep it healthy and looking its best.

One way to help take care of it, is to use a shower filter. Hard water can cause all sorts of gunk to build up on bleached hair, making it difficult to manage.

A shower filter can help remove some of that gunk, making it easier to keep your bleached hair looking its best.

Here’s the shower filter I love and own.

Get a chelating shampoo

A chelating shampoo will help to remove build-up from products and minerals in water.

You should use this type of shampoo at least once a month (depending on the hard water in your area).

Here is a list of good chelating shampoos.

Maintain until the next salon visit

Be sure to use a gentle shampoo and conditioner that is designed for bleached hair.

Avoid using hot water when washing your hair, as this can further damage the structure of your hair.

Instead, use lukewarm water and avoid scrubbing your hair too aggressively.

You can maintain the color by using a purple shampoo to help cancel out any unwanted yellow tones.

Trims

Don’t skip haircuts. Getting regular trims is one of the best things you can do for your bleached hair.

Trims help to get rid of any damaged or split ends, which can make your hair look healthier.

Bleach may cause curls to stretch out, which causes them to lose their form, therefore I like to have my hair trimmed following the color.

Keep hair hydrated

It is essential to keep bleached hair hydrated. This can be done by using a deep conditioner or mask at least once or twice a week.

Apply Hair Oil

Applying oil to bleached hair can help to seal in moisture and help keep your ends healthy.

Some oils can penetrate into the cuticle to provide optimal care for hair.

Sleep on a silk or satin pillowcase

A silk or satin pillowcase is one of the best investments you can do for your curls.

Unlike cotton pillowcases, the softer material lets the strands of your hair slip on top of the case instead of pulling, bending, or breaking them.

FAQs

Summary

Hair bleaching is a popular hair care practice among consumers. It aims to lighten the hair color by bleaching out melanin granules.

The end color is lighter in the shade while hair becomes fragile, damaged, and with significant frizz.

Hair quality can be preserved or restored by using “Hair Bonder” or “Actives” that can penetrate deep inside the hair cortex.

If you are not happy with the results, your only option is to grow out your hair and start over.

troubleshooting
Curl care

 We treat our blog with a curious, open-minded, and customer-focused attitude. We ask lots of questions about everything.

We think that people should take what information they need and leave what they don't. We suggest things we enjoy and believe are worth your attention.

Above all, we value your trust above anything else. We're so glad you’re here!

Hi,I'm Verna

product reviews
Textures

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